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U.S. Cedes ICANN Control to the World

U.S. Cedes ICANN Control to the World
ICANN, the organization that oversees the administration of the Internet, no longer operates under an agreement with the U.S. Department of Commerce, following the expiration of an 11-year partnership that lessens U.S. control over the critical infrastructure body.

The Joint Project Agreement (JPA), in effect since 1998, had bound ICANN -- officially known as the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers -- to the Department of Commerce, giving the government direct control over the group.

In its place today is a new "Affirmation of Commitments" agreement that will see ICANN operated instead under global oversight. The U.S. government will now become one nation among many in the process that governs the Internet.

"ICANN is accountable to the world and that's as it should be, since ICANN is a global international organization," Paul Levins, executive officer and vice president of corporate affairs at ICANN, told InternetNews.com. "But don't get me wrong, this is not Independence Day. We've been independent since we've been born, since 1998, when we were established as a non-profit organization."

Lawrence E. Strickling, assistant secretary for communications and information at the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications Information Administration (NTIA), signed the Affirmation deal on behalf of the government.

Since ICANN's creation, the organization has been subject to yearly reviews from the Department of Commerce. Under the new affirmation agreement, multi-national reviews will occur at least every three years. The U.S. will participate as one nation in ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC), which provides international oversight of ICANN.

"It's a huge step forward with no more reviews by one entity, no more temporary endorsement of the model," Levins said. "We're now looking at a very firm declaration by ICANN and the U.S. government that says this is the right model to manage this global resource on behalf of the globe and that's a fantastic outcome."

Earlier this year, U.S. lawmakers warned about the split of ICANN from U.S. Department of Commerce, but Levins noted that the Affirmation Agreement is all about fulfilling ICANN's original goal.

"It means the original intent to coordinate this resource so that no one entity could control it has come to fruition," Levins said. "It really is a historic moment in a series of historic moments since the Internet was created 40 years ago."

With the Affirmation of Commitments, ICANN is now a more international organization than it ever has been, though ICANN still has more work to do to further the process of international participation.

"The international domain name process is the next big thing," Levins said. "How do you make sure that the billions of people that are coming online are going to be able to express themselves and interact with the Internet addressing system in a way that's truly international."

U.S. and IANA

While the U.S. government will no longer have direct oversight over ICANN, it does still hold onto a key Internet control point. ICANN currently manages the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) on behalf of the U.S. government.

That contract will continue under the new partnership, and remains set to expire in 2011.

Like ICANN, IANA and its efforts are under close scrutiny. IANA holds a critical role in the infrastructure of the Internet as the organization that is responsible for Internet addressing. And as a result of the impending exhaustion of the Net's IPv4 addresses, IANA's work is under the microscope.

That doesn't make things easier for ICANN. Levins said the group's capacity to encourage an IPv4-to-IPv6 transition among Internet users remains limited: It can't mandate a switchover, for instance.

There's already been some uptake of IPv6, however. The U.S. government has mandated that its network infrastructure become IPv6-capable, though enterprise adoption of IPv6 to date has been slow.

While ICANN can't force people to move to IPv6, Levins said that the organization is working to educate about and promote the use of the technology.